Individuals with ASD participating in ABA therapy programs work on learning many socially significant skills. These skills fall into different domains, including but not limited to: communication skills, social skills, and daily living skills. It is always exciting for both the therapy team and caregivers to see kiddos acquire new skills in therapy.
As exciting as it is to see an individual perform a new skill in therapy, it is very important that they are taught to perform their newly acquired skills in all of their environments. If they are unable to perform their skills in all environments, then they will not benefit from being taught those skills in therapy. For instance, if a child has recently learned how to request what they would like to eat in a therapy session, we need to immediately make a plan for teaching them how to request what they would like to eat at home with their caregivers.
When you start to implement programming outside of sessions it is best to start small.
This process is called generalization. Generalization is when we teach an individual to perform a skill they have already learned with various people, various items, and in various environments. It is a key part of an ABA program. As a result, caregivers of individuals participating in an ABA program should expect to generalize all skills outside of therapy sessions, oftentimes without their BCBA or RBTs present. At first this may seem very overwhelming, but your therapy team is there to support you through this process!
When you start to implement programming outside of sessions it is best to start small. Ideally, start with selecting 1-2 programs/skills you would like to work on implementing. You can work with your BCBA to select these skills. One thing to keep in mind when selecting the skill[s] you would like to work on is selecting something you can work on consistently every day. Individuals with ASD benefit from consistent practice and expectations. Thus, selecting 1-2 skills you can practice daily will likely result in more progress than selecting 5 skills you target just once a week.
Once you have selected your skills, your BCBA and RBTs can provide training on how to implement these skills during caregiver trainings or therapy sessions. Practicing first with the therapy team will ensure you are prepared to implement them on your own. You may need to attend several practice sessions in order to learn how to implement the program or skill correctly, as most are targeted in a specific way to elicit learning. That is very common and should not discourage you. Remember, everyone needs practice to learn a new skill!
Another thing to keep in mind is that generalization to different environments, such as home, or different people, including caregivers, can be difficult for individuals with ASD. Just because your child can perform a skill during a therapy session with your therapy team does not mean they will be successful when you target the skill outside of a therapy session without the therapy team. For more information on caregiver training, we highly recommend this article, written by Charlotte K, M.S,, LBA, BCBA.
It is very important to give the reinforcement for a target skill immediately after the skill is completed.
To help your child be successful, your BCBA may recommend that when working on a program or skill, you provide some additional prompts (support) or an easier task to help your child be successful. For instance, if your child is working on using PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) to communicate in therapy, the therapist may be working on discriminating between 4 PECS icons. However, to help your child be successful, your BCBA may recommend that you start by targeting discriminating between only 2 PECS icons. While the goal will be to have your child build up to discriminating between 4 PECS icons with you, starting with an easier task within the program/skill will allow them to be successful.
Once you are ready to implement the programming or skill, ensure you have everything ready. This includes any required materials in order to complete the target skill as well as any reinforcement you will use when your child completes the skill. It is very important to give the reinforcement for a target skill immediately after the skill is completed. If you are taking any data, make sure you have the data sheet ready so you can record the data. Taking the data immediately after will ensure it is accurate.
Despite someone’s best intentions and understanding of the importance of generalization, it can be difficult to remember to implement programming/skills on a daily basis. Here are some tips for helping you remember to implement them daily:
Set a daily reminder on your phone. Make sure to select a time of day that should work for both you and your child to complete it.
Put a reminder somewhere you will see it in your house, such as on your refrigerator.
Leave part of the required materials out. For instance, if you are working on generalizing brushing hair, keep the hairbrush out on the bathroom sink rather than putting it away in a drawer.
Targeting the skill at a specific daily activity. For instance, if you are working on requesting, target every day during lunch to work on requesting foods and items needed for mealtime
Once you have started implementing the selected programming/skills always remember your therapy team is there to support you! If you are having difficulties with any aspects of completing the programming/skills let your BCBA know. By working together through any challenges or barriers, you can come up with a successful plan so that your child can continue to learn new skills! And lastly, always remember to share you and your child’s successes with the team!
Olivia is a board-certified and state-licensed Behavior Analyst with experience and a passion for working with the pediatric population. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a Certificate in Childhood and Adolescent Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. During her undergraduate career, Olivia also volunteered at the Behavior Research and Therapy Lab on campus, which focused on working with individuals with Tourette Syndrome and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders. She earned her Master of Arts in Applied Behavior Analysis from Ball State University. Olivia has spent the past ten years providing early intervention behavior analytic services in-home and in-center for children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in the greater Milwaukee area. For more information on the Picture Exchange Communication System, you can read more here: https://asatonline.org/for-parents/learn-more-about-specific-treatments/picture-exchange-communication-system-pecs/